What's on Your Reading List?

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When I joined a book club in the little community where I live, no member had ever read a graphic novel. But since I am a big fan of comics/graphic novels, I asked if they might take the plunge, and then we read Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus, which I regard as a masterpiece. At first glance, reactions varied: two people declared the work blasphemous because it was a “comic” about the Holocaust. Two others said they just didn’t want to have to read about such a terrible time. They grumbled, but they read. And by the time we met for discussion, they were, to a person, deeply moved and very, very glad they had read Spiegelman’s work. 

This week we are going to discuss another of my favorite graphic memoirs, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. I have been wanting to re-read this book in the last six months or so since the Hamas-Israel war began, as I’ve tried to understand the alliances and sometimes shifting allegiances among groups in the Middle East. Time to take a look back at the Iranian revolution and its aftermath–and Iran’s role in regional conflicts today.

Marjane Satrapi at a screening of the film version of Persepolis in 2007Marjane Satrapi at a screening of the film version of Persepolis in 2007


I have taught Persepolis along with the film that Satrapi did later, but I hadn't revisited the text in years. I'm glad I did: meeting little Marji again, seeing the fall of the Shah and the revolution through her young eyes, following her well-educated, activist parents from their joy at the overthrow of the old regime to their dawning horror at what came afterward with the Islamic regime and the Revolutionary Guards. And following Marji's complicated tensions between her western (French) schooling and Islamic traditions, along with her growing realization of the biases and failings of each, left me wishing I were in the classroom again.

Then I heard that Satrapi, who moved solidly into film in more recent years, had a new book out. She says she thought she was through with graphic memoirs and with print books, but recent events changed her mind. In particular, the death of Mahsa Amini, “beaten to death by the Iranian morality police for wearing her veil improperly,” galvanized Satrapi and others to mount a new effort, titled Woman, Life, Freedom. The book opens with a meditation from Satrapi on the role of heroic women in Iranian history, includes 23 graphic stories by a range of distinguished writers and illustrators, and concludes with illustrated discussion among Satrapi and several contributors that looks to the Iran of today and of the future.

I have read only the first couple of pieces in this new book, but it seems to make such a timely intervention into the fierce debates going on about freedom in general and freedom of speech in particular. And it has taken me back to my days of teaching Persepolis. I often asked students to take a contemporary issue about which they were passionate and to create a few panels of a graphic text that would explore that issue from two or three different perspectives. This was a challenging assignment, but I found that attempting to create drawings, even very simple or crude ones (like the ones I always did!) somehow knocked us a little off balance, got us out of our typical comfort zones, and allowed us to visualize differing perspectives on very hot button issues. 

Perhaps because our drawings sometimes captured our feelings and emotions better than our words could—especially angry or hateful words—we ended up having more open conversations about sensitive issues than I had found possible in other kinds of assignments. 

So–for what it’s worth–Satrapi’s past and present work is on my reading list right now, and I think you might like to add it to yours as well.


Image from Wikimedia Commons

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.